Classical / ROYAL PHILHARMONIC / ANDREW LITTON Barbican, London
Writer and broadcaster Edward Seckerson is Chief Classical Music and Opera Critic for The Independent. He wrote and presented the long-running BBC Radio 3 series Stage & Screen, in which he interviewed many of the most prominent writers and stars of musical theatre. He appears regularly on BBC Radio 3 and 4. On television, he has commentated a number of times at the Cardiff Singer of the World competition. He has published books on Mahler and the conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, and has been on Gramophone Magazine's review panel for many years. Edward presented the 2007 series of the Radio 4 music quiz Counterpoint. He has interviewed everyone from Leonard Bernstein to Liza Minelli; from Paul McCartney to Pavarotti: from Julie Andrews to Jessye Norman.
Monday 12 June 1995
The seedy backroom bar of Bernstein's ballet Fancy Free was Litton's last port of call in a two-concert round-trip to the American heartlands. And as Bernstein's big-band kicked on, you could feel even this pitifully small audience giving silent thanks for the day that American music finally doffed its Stetson at Europe and went it alone.
So where did it all begin, this musical dream? Somewhere between the mountains and the plains of Oklahoma, if you are to believe Roy Harris. Now there was a pioneer. His family staked their claim in Lincoln County; they built a home and tilled the land there. And their hopes and aspirations found their way into a remarkable Symphony - Harris's Third. In one extraordinary passage, rustling arpeggios moves through muted strings, like a gentle breeze disturbing a field of corn, while bucolic woodwind figures amble. It's music content to stay where it is, as static as anything in Sibelius (whose one-movement 7th Symphony foreshadows it). But there is plenty yet to strive for. And in the final reckoning, as a determined dirge-like chorale in the strings comes through rocky brass syncopations to one of those all-this-could-be-yours perorations (replete with inspiring open- hearted horn descants), you know that American music could never be the same again. The date on the score is 1938.
I imagine that the Royal Philharmonic have rarely (if ever) played it. And they were, to put it mildly, feeling their way a bit. But better that than never to have ventured. And where there's a will. This was a hugely demanding (and enterprising) programme. But a good few people in that hall will have left a lot wiser as to what the words "American Dream" actually mean.
They will have certainly had some resonance for Jon Kimura Parker, staking his inexplicably slight UK reputation (despite winning the 1984 Leeds Piano Competition) on one of the most daunting virtuosic and unsung of all American pieces - the Barber Piano Concerto. Was this the last great romantic piano concerto? Truly it behaves that way. Barber took a set of traditional values - the showmanship of Rachmaninov, the finesse of Ravel, the percussive dynamism of Bartok and Prokofiev - and tightly bound them with that fabulously sinewy lyricism of his. Kimura Parker played a blinder of a performance, the kind that gets a piece return dates. And having wound up on the finale's pile-driving ostinatos, he invited us to chill out with a quick burst of Chick Corea. Got a match? No, that was the title.
Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression
tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros
Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awardsTheatre
Grace DentChannel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Kylie Jenner challenge: Bizarre lip suction device inspired by Kardashian sister goes viral
- 2 Rarest Beanie Baby bought for just £10 at car boot sale could be sold for £62,500 on eBay
- 3 Katie Hopkins and The Sun editor are reported to police for incitement to racial hatred following migrant boat column
- 4 Bruce Forsyth backs assisted dying campaign: 'If I had Alzheimer's or dementia I would do something about it'
- 5 Giorgio Armani criticises the way some gay men dress saying 'a man has to be a man'
If I’m being racially abused I don’t need a stranger with a saviour complex to rescue me
The only black face in the Ukip manifesto is on the page about overseas aid
Ukip is the only main political party to not address LGBT rights in its manifesto
Food banks: One million Britons will soon be using them, according to Trussell Trust
Religion isn't growing, it is becoming vigorous in its demise, says philosopher AC Grayling
BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate